In a high-stakes litigation, “Mighty Ducks” author and creator Steven Brill sued Walt Disney Pictures and its professional hockey team, the Mighty Ducks Hockey Club Inc. on Tuesday, claiming he is entitled to 5% of all gross revenues of “Mighty Ducks” merchandise and 5% of gross revenues of the Mighty Ducks hockey team.
Brill’s attorney, Pierce O’Donnell said: “This is a case with broad significance for writers. A professional sports team was spawned from a motion picture. In the Disney world, life imitates art. And Steven Brill created the art.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that under the Writers Guild of America basic agreement, which governs the relationship between the studio and the writer, Brill is entitled to “5% of the “absolute gross that the studio receives from exploiting unique objects and things.”
Disney could not be reached for comment, but it is expected to argue that titles and names, such as “The Mighty Ducks,” doesn’t come under the WGA definition of an object or thing.
Mighty Ducks merchandising of everything from hats to key chains to sweatshirts has been extremely successful. According to the complaint, Mighty Ducks merchandising consistently outsells all other NHL teams combined, and at one point it accounted for 80% of the $1 billion in NHL merchandising revenues. The complaint puts a floor of $25 million on the amount Brill is owed.
Brill penned the 1988 story about a ragtag peewee hockey team that is transformed into the Mighty Ducks. Disney released the film in 1992. Two sequels, also written by Brill, followed. Disney then decided to parlay the success of the “Mighty Ducks” franchise into an actual professional hockey team, which had its first NHL season in 1993.
The current lawsuit is another step in what has been a procedurally complex dispute. Brill originally sued Disney in 1995 in state court in Los Angeles and Disney removed the case to federal court. Disney then argued that the claims were subject to mandatory arbitration. In October, the arbitrator ruled that the claims were not subject to mandatory arbitration and the case could proceed in federal court.